Cash no longer king in Sweden as e-transactions take over

The cashless society could soon be reality in Sweden, where four in five purchases are now made electronically or with payment cards, and new technology and mobile applications are developing rapidly.

“Sweden and the other Nordic countries are world leaders when it comes to cash-free trade,” Bengt Nilervall of the Swedish Trade Federation told news agency TT.

Swedes use debit and credit cards more or less on a daily basis, with an average of 260 transactions per person per year.

More and more street vendors have started accepting card payments, too. In southern and western Sweden, homeless magazine vendors have even started using small card terminals.

“Now, it’s harder for people to say they don’t want a magazine because they don’t have any money on them,” said Hasse Olsson, who sells the magazine Faktum outside the Malmö city library in southern Sweden. Faktum vendors buy magazine copies for SEK 25, sell them for 50 and keep the profit.

More and more bank branches have stopped handling cash, which has contributed to a drop in bank robberies. In 2012, there were five bank robberies in Sweden and the year before there were 11, the lowest figures in 30 years, according to the Swedish Bankers’ Association.

In southern Europe, things look very different. In Italy, for instance, only three quarters of all consumer purchases are done with cash.

“That is because there is a lack of trust in the authorities and in the banking system,” Niklas Arvidsson, an associate professor in industry dynamics, explained.

Arvidsson believes that Sweden can become completely cashless, but not until 2030. A halting factor could be “people’s feeling for having ready cash in their hands,” he said. In a recent survey by pollster Sifo, two out of three respondents said that cash is a “human right”.

Swedish industry, banks and payment card companies welcome the cashless trend, of course. Going cashless would mean improved security for staff and customers, they say, and it is quite expensive to handle cash. Recently, the annual net cost in Sweden alone was SEK 8.7 billion, which  corresponds to 0.3 percent of the country’s GDP.